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BLASDEL, EUGENE SHERWOOD

BLASDEL, EUGENE SHERWOOD (1878–1930). Eugene Sherwood Blasdel, the son of Judson Sherwood and Anna (Jenness) Blaisdell, was born on November 16, 1878, in Champaign, Illinois. He was stricken with infantile paralysis at the age of nine and received only limited formal schooling. He developed an insatiable appetite for books and a love for recreation and the outdoors, and was able to walk again by the time he was twelve. In 1890 he moved with his family to Des Moines, Iowa, where his father established a grain business. He soon learned the financial aspects of agribusiness and in 1896 succeeded his father as manager of the Charles Counselman and Company grain elevator at Gowrie, Iowa. In 1898 he enrolled at Doane Academy, a branch of Denison University at Granville, Ohio. A year later he started his own business selling gasoline engines, then an innovation. In anticipation of joining the Klondike gold rush Blasdel moved in January 1901 to Seattle, where he worked as an engineer on fishing vessels. Both of these business ventures were curtailed by bouts with typhoid fever. After his second recovery in Seattle, Blasdel worked briefly as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and the Mercury. He returned to Iowa in November 1901 and became a traveling auditor for the Counselman firm. Acquaintance with Gov. Henry G. Blasdel in San Francisco motivated Eugene to modify his surname. He married Libbie Howard, a high school principal from Jefferson, Iowa, on May 2, 1904, and settled briefly in Chicago, where he worked at the Neola Elevator Company headquarters.

In October 1904 the Blasdels decided to move to Texas after noticing a land company's ad pushing the "golden opportunities" of the Panhandle. Upon arrival at Groom, Carson County, Blasdel established a lumberyard and with John Walter Knorpp as a partner opened the town's first bank. After Libbie's death on May 28, 1905, Blasdel sold out his interest in the bank to Knorpp. A year later he sold his lumberyard to A. C. Morgan, a lumber salesman from Elk City, Oklahoma. Blasdel then began speculating in land leases and built a small house in town for himself and his parents. For a time he worked for the National Bank of Commerce in Amarillo and in 1908 purchased a quarter-section farm three miles northwest of Groom, on which he built a granary.

To learn more about banking and the nature of Wall Street, particularly in relation to the recent panic of 1907, Blasdel took courses in composition and economics at the University of Chicago and business courses at the New York University School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance. While in New York he worked briefly as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and made several influential contacts, including one with John D. Rockefeller. He also visited several grain operations throughout the Midwest and Canada. On the train from Milwaukee to Chicago he met Kathleen Meiklejohn, a speech teacher. They were married at Waupun, Wisconsin, on June 2, 1909. They had six children, the oldest of whom died as a child.

The newlyweds returned to the farm near Groom, where Blasdel began raising wheat and kafir by a new method then called dry-tillage farming. This method proved fairly successful during a poor season, and in 1911 he sold the farm and started his own grain elevator in town. The following year he moved his family and business to Amarillo, where he established the Plains Grain Company and purchased an interest in several other elevators. Through his contacts in the outside market Blasdel sold a considerable amount of wheat abroad, particularly after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. He was said to have had the world corner on red top cane seed in 1916–17. In 1918, however, when the federal government ordered all domestic grain in storage to be moved to ports for shipment abroad, he liquidated his business in protest.

After a severe bout with influenza Blasdel began searching out the natural resources of the Panhandle, looking for possible deposits of clay for brick, sand for glass, gravel, copper, gold, oil, and gas. After the discovery of gas on the Masterson ranch in December 1918, Blasdel purchased Grover C. Bishop's interest in an expiring oil and gas lease on Samuel Burk Burnett's Four Sixes Ranch. With W. H. Fuqua and Pat H. Landergin (see LANDERGIN BROTHERS) as partners, Blasdel secured a new contract with Burnett, hired Charles N. Gould to locate sites for wells, and brought in the Gulf Production Company to do the drilling. Their efforts paid off in 1920, when Gulf No. 1 Burnett began producing fifty million cubic feet of gas daily, and again on March 20, 1921, when Gulf No. 2 became the Panhandle's first successful oil well. The latter date coincided with the birth of Blasdel's youngest child, whom he named James Gulf in honor of the occasion.

With his new fortune Blasdel bought stock in various oil companies, obtained more oil leases, and invested in Amarillo real estate. Still maintaining an interest in the Groom Elevator Company, he also planned to resume his role as a grain dealer and erect more elevators. In addition he became a member of the Chicago Athletic Club and envisioned buying a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade. Often he took his family on extended vacations and camping trips. Blasdel was appointed United States food and fuel administrator for the Texas Panhandle and was president of the Amarillo School Board from 1919 to 1921. He also served a term (1923–24) as mayor of Amarillo and was a member of the Central Presbyterian Church there.

In the fall of 1929 a severe attack of bronchitis left Blasdel's health even more delicate, and the wishes of his family to remain in Amarillo influenced his decision not to reenter the grain business. On October 16, 1930, he died of a heart attack while he was hunting deer on a vacation with his wife and four of his children in the Blue Mountains near Springerville, Arizona. He was buried in Llano Cemetery, Amarillo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Henry E. Hertner, ed., Three Questions, Three Answers: A Story from the Life of Dr. Charles Newton Gould (Amarillo: Potter County Historical Survey Committee, 1967). Jo Stewart Randel, ed., A Time to Purpose: A Chronicle of Carson County (4 vols., Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966–72).

H. Allen Anderson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

H. Allen Anderson, "BLASDEL, EUGENE SHERWOOD," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbl57), accessed July 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.